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National

August 11, 2018

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Plan to boost human health by saving vultures

ISLAMABAD: A new restriction on vets' drugs poisoning Pakistan's critically endangered vultures promises to boost not only survival hopes of nature's feathered dustbins but also public health, wildlife experts have said, according to a report published in a foreign newspaper.

The birds' gory appearances and unsavoury habits may make them less appealing than other endangered species, but a collapse in numbers triggered by toxic livestock drugs has risked spreading disease in humans.

Around 95 per cent of Pakistan's vultures have died off since the mid-1990s after birds were poisoned scavenging the carcasses of livestock treated with common anti-inflammatory drugs. A collapse in numbers of vultures can see carcasses left to rot, or see the birds replaced by other scavengers, such as rats or packs of feral dogs, that carry diseases and transmit them to people.

Officials in Sindh province have now promised to restrict two of the most common drugs after years of lobbying from conservationists. Muhammad Jamshed Iqbal, of the Pakistan branch of the World Wildlife Fund, said: “For vultures, we don't have too much time, so first we decided to restrict their availability. We wrote to the provincial health secretary asking him to restrict these two drugs from the area. I think it’s good news for vultures.”

The Chief Drug Inspector of Sindh has ordered regional and district drug inspectors to restrict the use of aceclofenac and ketoprofen. The Pakistan Vulture Restoration Project (PVRP), led by Mr Iqbal, has spent the past 12 years campaigning for the banning of the toxic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which cause kidney failure in the birds.

A statement from the PVRP, which includes the UK's Hawk Conservancy Trust and the WWF, said vultures' collapse had “serious consequences for people”. Their waste removal service controls the populations of disease-carrying scavengers that are a threat to human health.

“By suppressing the numbers of mammalian scavengers at carcasses, the potential for disease transmission is reduced. Without vultures, the numbers of mammalian scavengers increases, which increases the potential for disease transmission, threatening the health of humans and wildlife.”

Vultures' removal of carrion leaves less food for other scavengers, such as dogs. A collapse in vulture numbers in India has been blamed for a huge rise in the feral dog population at the same time and a rise in rabies cases. Vultures strong digestive juices also allow them to eat diseased carrion, cleaning up carcasses that may be infected with deadly microbes.

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